I was admitted to the hospital yesterday, branded with a white bracelet that stated my name and birth date and another red bracelet that branded me as one with an allergy. Each step of the branding process brought about different words of warning, caution and comfort, letting me know that the tests I was about to undergo were serious tests. It was not a casual procedure conducted in a doctor's office. Rather, I was a patient - a patient who was admitted with rights and responsibilities and countless things to think about.
I arrived at 7:00 for the check-in procedures. I was ushered over to a kind woman's desk. She entered the information on my insurance card and then asked me a series of questions before inviting me to complete different forms. The first form asked for who to contact in the event that I became unresponsive during the procedure. I carefully printed my husband's contact information along with that of my mother. She then handed me a form that encouraged me to leave all of my belongings with a loved one. "Please do not take any valuables with you into the hospital. The hospital is not liable for any lost belongings." Right, I thought to myself as I looked at my large work bag packed with my calendar and sermon books and my purse sitting next to it. She then asked me what my religious preferences are. "I'm a pastor," I said. "I don't really need a chaplain," I shared before thinking about how ignorant the response was. Everyone needs a chaplain while in the hospital! Then she asked if I wanted to be added to the visitation list, allowing others to know where I was so that they could visit me if given a room. "Of course," I said, thinking of how much visitors meant to me when I was in the hospital this summer.
When the admitting process was over, I gathered my large bags and was given a pager like the ones assigned at the Cheesecake Factory when all the tables are taken. I went to the bathroom and had not even finished my business when the pager started to sound. I reported back to the main desk and was told to go to the 4th floor where I encountered a gentleman waiting for me. He led me into a room, made me as comfortable as possible, and then carefully applied all kinds of goop to my head for my EEG. He explained each step and when the EEG was over, I was escorted to the 3rd floor, sporting a head full of wires along the way.
Once on the 3rd floor I was ushered into the tilt table test room and given another form to complete. This form had much more serious consequences. It alerted me to the fact that some people (could have been only 1 or 2) had died because of the procedure I was having. She made sure I had not eaten anything that day and then asked me to sign.
I signed my life away.
I was told not to worry about anything.
I was encouraged to leave my possessions behind.
I was assured a community surrounding me.
I was told to let go and trust that everything would be okay.
I was informed of the importance of what I was doing even though there could be consequences.
Sounds a lot like discipleship to me - discipleship at its best.
Sounds a lot like church to me - church at its best.
I don't think our commitment to follow Jesus and to be part of a church community is a casual commitment. I believe it is a commitment that is designed to demand our very best - one that is designed to change us, transform us and lighten our load as we let go of some things in order to embrace a heavy cross. We are encouraged to sign our lives away - to offer them into the hands of the potter who will shape and reshape us until we molded into the people this potter intends us to be. We are encouraged to let go of our possessions - the disciples were told to take nothing for their journey. We are called to let go of anything that is not really necessary (don't worry, like you I am still working on this one). We are called to surround each other with a community that will be present no matter what - which means that we can count on this community despite the circumstances of life we are enduring but also means that we are called to be present and part of the community despite the circumstances of life we are enduring. And, we are informed often of how there may be consequences to following Jesus - we may lose friends, we may discover that we're surrounded by wolves when we feel like a lonely sheep, we may see just how heavy the cross is, and the road may not be an easy one to travel even with Jesus leading the way. But, we may also see the power that comes when we trust in God and gather as a community - something extraordinary might happen. Healing may be made manifest before our eyes. The lame may walk. The lepers may be cleansed. The blind may see. The poor may have good news brought to them. Something remarkable happens when we are branded and have the courage to actually live out our baptism.
Annie Dillard offers what continues to be one of my favorite words on the church and discipleship. She writes,
"On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return." (Teaching a Stone to Talk, Harper & Row, 1982)
Give me a helmet. I'm ready to sign my life away. What about you?